Formulaic is poison to art

September 23, 2013

A little update on the post I wrote about formulas a while back.

In the article I linked before, which is about a scriptwriting book that is leading to even more generic Hollywood movies (as if that’s what the world needs), one of the movies referred to multiple times was Star Trek Into Darkness. This weekend I finally watched it.

Hoo-boy, were they right.

Now I’m a bit of an anomaly. I’m a bit too trope savvy for my own good, so I can regularly call out plot points before they happen. This usually doesn’t diminish my enjoyment though, because I enjoy the game of it, and also because when a story is told well it’s still enjoyable even if I see things coming. And when a story does surprise me? Wow. Even better.

Star Trek Into Darkness did none of this. I reliably called every plot “twist” that happened. That alone wouldn’t make me condemn it – and really I don’t, it was decently enjoyable on the whole – but what does is the realization that they forced characters out of character in order to follow the formula. That’s quite possibly a storyteller’s greatest sin.

From Admiral Pike performing a very out of character dressing down of Kirk to Dr. Carol Marcus stripping in an open shuttle, many scenes smacked of the checklist, of the writers going “we need drama here, and fan service here, and an action scene around here.” I never once believed that Kirk would go back to the academy, or that he would die, or any number of other events. The writers surprised me a few times, and the actors and special effects teams all did a bang up job, but the script didn’t support them like it should have.

I think viewers can tell when they’re watching something that isn’t genuine. Predictable isn’t always bad – some stories require it, while others are just better if told in the most predictable way. It’s when the story or characters stop being genuine that predictability kills the story.

Star Trek was always interesting because it was different. The new movies can be entertaining – and they probably gross a lot more money than they would otherwise – but I think the world is diminished for them following a formula instead of staying true to what made their universe popular in the first place.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.


  1. Reply


    Calling out plot points was my shtick at one point. It got so bad, in my opinion, that when Macross Frontier’s “Lion” aired I predicted exactly what would happen in the last two episodes almost to the minute.

    That ruined the entire anime-watching experience for me. It sucks because I really like openings and endings, and having to skip them because I can read the plot from them is not only very problematic but takes away from the full experience. It’s like reading a book and knowing what happens every chapter not from looking at the chapter titles but by reading just the foreword. It’s rather annoying to me, so it’s interesting to see someone that seems to take enjoyment despite that fact.

    1. Reply


      I have a post planned for sometime in the near future that you might find interesting. It touches on this exact thing. I won’t say anymore for the moment, but I’m sure you’ll realize which one I’m talking about when it appears.

  2. Reply

    Kioku from Laptop

    “…what made their universe popular in the first place.”

    A constantly failing somethinganother(warp?) drive? I’ve never watched too much of Star Trek, but I have heard that there is a reoccurring problem with one of their ship parts. 🙂

    1. Reply


      I was thinking about the more hard sci-fi / cerebral exposition / peace-and-exploration schtick, but yeah, that too!

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